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Basalt’s Maytham, with help from Ferreira, chasing own X Games skiing dream

Before Alex Ferreira threw down a 1440 in the superpipe to win his second straight X Games Aspen gold medal last month, he spent hours training on the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club’s trampoline. And Chace Maytham had a front-row seat to the whole thing.

“I watched him do that run for five months straight before X Games, just preparing,” Maytham said Wednesday. “I saw how focused and dedicated he was to learning that trick and putting together one of the best pipe runs ever done. It really rubbed off on me how hard you have to work to learn those huge tricks.”

Maytham is trying to follow in Ferreira’s footsteps. A 2019 graduate of Basalt High School where he starred as a football player, the 18-year-old Maytham decided to put his full attention toward halfpipe skiing this year in order to chase down his lifelong dream of competing at X Games.

He’s trained most of his life with AVSC, but never had the time to fully commit to skiing until after he graduated from Basalt.

“Being a multi-sport athlete, it’s always been tough for him to really give skiing the focus that he wants to,” said Greg Ruppel, AVSC’s head park and pipe coach. “That worked out really nice for him this fall getting to hang around Alex and do a lot of trampolining, some workouts with him, and just kind of pick up Alex’s mindset and his approach to competition, because I think that’s probably one of the most valuable things Alex has to really teach a newer athlete like Chace.”

Ferreira, the 25-year-old Aspen native and former AVSC athlete who won Olympic silver in 2018, lives near Aspen Highlands and often trains down the street at the AVSC clubhouse. It was there he befriended Maytham and decided to take him under his wing, which was a big boost for the former Longhorn. The two spent hours training alongside each other in the fall and both happen to be taking classes at Colorado Mountain College.

“He’s been fantastic. He always asks me how a contest went or I’d send him a video of my run and he’d critique it in a different way a coach can do, because it’s coming from another athlete,” Maytham said of Ferreira. “I’m young and I still have a lot to go, but I still feel like I have a lot to catch up on and that’s why I wanted to take this year and really dedicate myself.”

Maytham will compete Saturday in the Aspen Snowmass Freeskiing Open, a Nor-Am Cup event that could pave the way for future starts in World Cups, if not even bigger events such as X Games. The contest is held on the X Games venue at Buttermilk Ski Area.

This will be Maytham’s fourth time competing in the freeski open, his best finish coming last year when he was 12th in the halfpipe. He has a handful of other Nor-Am Cup starts, including earlier this winter at Copper Mountain, but is still chasing that breakthrough performance.

He said having so much more time to train this winter has made this year’s freeski open at Buttermilk feel more promising in regards to making finals or even getting on the podium.

“I’ve never been on the podium here and this year I feel I actually have a good shot,” Maytham said. “Now that I have so much more time to ski and train and really dedicate myself, it’s become my life. I wouldn’t say I was so committed when I was younger, but realizing now this is it, I kind of left all my friends, in a way.”

Maytham isn’t quite doing 14s like Ferreira, but did say he’s close to adding a double-cork 1260 to his arsenal, a trick he plans to have competition-ready by the end of the season. Between Saturday’s freeski open in Aspen and another Nor-Am competition in Canada next week, this is an important time frame for Maytham to keep his skiing dreams alive for next season.

If it all falls into place, Maytham has hopes of getting his first World Cup start next fall in New Zealand. Of course, like any local skier, the ultimate dream would be making it to X Games, a feat Maytham sees as possible over the coming years. He’s come so far in only a few months this season that he’s optimistic that trend will continue into the winters ahead.

“Right when I graduated I knew I wanted to pursue skiing and pursue it more professionally than what I’d done,” Maytham said. “Before I can even remember, my dream was I wanted to be in X Games. I had the opportunity to go to a university and do that, but I was really, ‘This is my shot, my one shot.’ I would rather put my full effort into skiing, because growing up I never really had a full ski schedule.”

The men’s ski superpipe qualifier for the Aspen Snowmass Freeskiing Open is scheduled to start at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, with finals slated to follow directly after.

Spectating is free.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

X Faces: A look at the athletes who made up X Games Aspen 2020

Staff photographer Kelsey Brunner was behind the scenes all weekend to document the X Games Aspen 2020 edition.

Along the way, The Aspen Times photographer caught the faces of those who made up one of the bigger athlete lists. From skiers to boarders, Brunner focused in on their intense looks and signs of relief when they got to the bottom.

From teens to veteran riders, we take a look at the “Faces of X Games.”

X Games Aspen 2020 leads to few incidents in town, crowd of 111k rolled through

The 2020 X Games have come and gone with few lingering effects — a handful of arrests were made, the entrance to the Rio Grande parking garage lever has been repaired after someone drove through it early Saturday morning and parking spots are easier to come by.

ESPN reports that 111,500 people attended the four-day event held at Buttermilk Ski Area from Thursday to Sunday. That is down from the 117,000 attendance from 2019.

On Saturday, message boards near Basalt on Highway 82 told motorists that the Brush Creek Park & Ride was full and to park in Aspen. But by 12:30 p.m., the garage was full, too.

That prompted Mitch Osur, the city’s parking director, to make the decision for the second year in a row to offer free parking in Aspen late Saturday afternoon.

The city also encouraged people to park in residential areas and then take the bus to the venue at Buttermilk Ski Area.

“It was the largest Saturday for parking of the year,” Osur said.

Tracy Trulove, the city of Aspen’s communications director who was on the X Games incident command team, said 574 “contacts” were made with individuals from Thursday to Sunday night.

Half of those were traffic stops, Trulove said, and the other half amounted to officers talking to people at the venue about open container, liquor and marijuana consumption.

Two arrests were made by the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, including one DUI and the other a drug possession.

Sheriff Joe DiSalvo characterized the masses as a “well-behaved crowd.”

The Aspen Police Department made seven arrests, ranging from DUI to disorderly conduct to noise violations, according to Aspen Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn.

There were two car-versus-pedestrian accidents in the city, and nine noise complaints.

Work was being done on Monday morning to repair the access arm to the RIo Grande Parking Garage after someone drove through it, tearing it off, over the weekend.
Carolyn Sackariason/The Aspen Times

APD is investigating an incident in which a motorist exited through the Mill Street entrance to the Rio Grande Parking Garage, tearing off the arm that allows access.

Video surveillance shows the vehicle’s license plate and APD has identified the registered owner.

csackariason@aspentimes.com

X Games Aspen music review: Illenium, Rae Sremmurd, Bazzi and Alesso

The hordes of young music fans at X Games Aspen were the first audience to hear new songs from Rae Sremmurd, an unreleased track from Illenium and the live debut of Bazzi’s hit “I.F.L.Y.” this weekend at Buttermilk. A sell-out crowd celebrated Colorado’s own Illenium on Saturday, many sporting Illenium baseball jerseys, and thousands braved sub-freezing temperatures to jump up and down in unison to Alesso’s “Years” later that night in a set punctuated by a surprise fireworks show.

Crowds were smaller than the four-show sell out of 2019, but in its sixth year of hosting shows in the 5,000-capacity temporary music arena on the Buttermilk bunny hill, X Games brought its youngest group of headliners (none over age 29) and the newest music from some of the world’s biggest pop stars.

ILLENIUM PLAYS AND REMIXES HIS BEST

Illenium, the Denver-based EDM star, brought his A-game to the homestate crowd, playing hits, crossing genres, paying homage to his beginnings and drawing and releasing the energy of the venue, making sure everyone left wanting more.

Acutely aware of how to shift energy in his largely college-aged or younger crowd, he worked it to his advantage to keep the audience entertained through a 90-minute set at the Buttermilk stage.

The tension could be felt before he even began, as crowds of teens and 20-somethings flooded into the venue 40 minutes before showtime. The relaxed drinkers settled in the back of the venue while pairs and impromptu dance parties filled out the center and a solid mass of bodies pushed against the stage, shrouded by a haze of cannabis and fogged breath.

Illenium, born Nicholas Miller, walked onstage to an erupting crowd as the quiet voiceover that leads his latest album, “Ascend,” played over the speakers.

“It’s unavoidable,” the woman’s voice began, “Just happens. When you grow up, your heart dies.”

“Who cares?” both the male response and the crowd replied in unison, voicing the dichotomy of millennial cynicism and earnestness present in any good modern EDM lyric. With that, the tension broke and the energy released.

Miller started by making his way through quick, one-chorus impressions of some of his well-known songs, including the booming voice of Foy Vance paired with heavy dubstep drops in “Blood,” and the sing-along choruses of “Crawl Outta Love” and “Where’d You Go?” Anyone unaware of the lyrics could make correct noises to the easily singable melodies.

From there, Miller worked through an eclectic medley of his catalog, ranging from well-known favorites of “Crashing,” “Sound of Walking Away,” and his remix of The Chainsmokers’ “Don’t Let Me Down,” to less-vocal songs from his earlier career including “So Wrong” and “In Your Wake.”

Through it all, Miller acted masterfully — pounding out drum fills on an electric setup surrounding his laptop and gliding across the fretboard of his guitar, both solo and as a duet with an onstage extra. As the temperature dropped and the audience flagged, Miller kept track, timing his beat changes to pick the crowd back up, even going so far as a rallying cry, “Can you all bring some energy right now?” before launching into a reverberating, “Three, two, one!” and a dubstep breakdown.

However, as with many EDM artists hoping to play to the crowd, Miller returned to the choruses and drops of his songs multiple times. In each, he tried to make it feel fresh with different riffs or an unexpected cross into a new melody, but the latter half of the 90 minutes started eliciting feelings of deja entendu.

In the end, Miller seemed like he was going to finish his set by giving the crowd what they truly wanted: a communal moment of musical recognition.

He worked through an extended mash-up of “Sad Songs” and his newest hit with vocalist Jon Bellion, “Good Things Fall Apart.” Lyrics intertwining and audience jumping, Miller brought the crowd to a swell before one final twist: Ending the night with an unreleased song titled “Feel Something.” The crowd reacted with slight surprise, but no one stopped dancing during the residual cheer.

RAE SREMMURD DEBUTS NEW SONGS

Near the end of an hour-long set Friday night, Rae Sremmurd’s Swae Lee asked the enthusiastic crowd, “Only in Aspen for X Games, can I do some exclusive shit?”

Making his way to the edge of the mosh pit, he said he’d be watching his fans closely as they heard it for the first time: “Nobody here is going to know these words — I want to see some real reactions.”

The hip-hop duo’s DJ then spun a few minutes of the new track, featuring a trap beat and Swae repeating lines like “I got it straight out my system” and “Get that hate out my system.” Swae said he expected to release the song by the end of February, with a full solo album to follow.

The slopeside venue roared for it after Swae’s build-up. And as the track played, he hyped the spectators up, dancing, pumping his arms and head-banging among them.

The other half of the duo, Slim Jxmmi, also shared an unreleased solo song, a new collaboration with DaBaby called “Mic Check.”

Thrilling as it was to hear the new tracks, Rae Sremmurd’s performance was deflating.

The duo leaned heavily on recorded tracks spun by D_JaySremm for most of the set, singing and rapping in short bursts over the recorded versions. The X Gamers were unfazed, happy to dance and sing along to a set list packed with the Atlanta-based siblings’ string of hits as they know them, following word-for-word as Rae Sremmurd opened with a party-starting run of “No Type,” “No Flex Zone,” “Perplexing Pegasus” and “Come Get Her.”

The duo put a herculean effort into onstage antics and fan interaction — both jumping into the crowd multiple times, Slim turning the microphone over to an audience member to freestyle, Swae doing the Batusi, playing air guitar and smashing pineapples, both often lavishing praise on a rowdy, young audience Swae called “one of the littest crowds in North America.”

It’s hard to be let down by a show with so much action (lasers and fog machines, strobe lights and a story-high video screen playing animations to boot) but it was a let-down. Swae and Slim are studio wizards who’ve made some of the best hip-hop songs of the past decade, no doubt, but one of the things that’s set them apart is the distinct and often surprising interplay of Swae’s disarmingly gentle harmonies and high notes juxtaposed against Slim’s rough-edged verses. Anybody hoping to see that play out live onstage at X Games left this show disappointed, though most of this crowd didn’t seem to mind the pantomime and karaoke-style set.

Several times at the beginning or end of songs — including “Swang,” “Black Beatles” and “Sunflower” — Swae did sing a verse a capella or he vamped, plugging references to Colorado, snowboarding, Aspen and X Games into the most familiar of Rae Sremmurd lyrics.

The chilly midwinter air may have hampered the duo’s vocals, of course, with the temperature in the 30s. After closing the set with “Powerglide,” Swae hinted that the cold might have slowed him down: “I got pneumonia or something f—ing with y’all!”

SEXYTIME WITH BAZZI

Anybody who thinks X Games music can only move at one over-caffeinated speed should take notice, as the R&B singer Bazzi proved otherwise in a gorgeous and sleek 45-minute set Sunday afternoon. The performance was filled with Bazzi’s sex-positive slow jams, bad-boy confessionals and torch songs — tales of break-ups and raw emotions and rawer bedroom liasons.

The 22-year-old singer also treated X Games to the first live performance of his recent streaming hit “I.F.L.Y” (185 million Spotify streams and counting). The song was a high point of the evening, with the young crowd singing along to the infectious “I f—ing love you” chorus.

Bazzi was backed by a live drummer and guitarist, with an off-stage DJ piping in the electronic production. He also picked up a guitar himself for “Alone” and other songs. But the show was carried by a man and a microphone, with Bazzi singing R&B augmented by some big bass drops — the cathartic crescendos of “Why” and “Mine” were highlights — and that booming drum set. It was an organic breath of fresh air.

As a songwriter, he can turn heartbreak, longing and devotion into perfect pop constructions like the set-opening “Paradise.” As a performer, he can sell it without crossing the line into cheese-pop territory. He gave X Games a feel-good comedown after a weekend of bombastic EDM and hip-hop sets from Alesso, Illenium and Rae Sremmurd. His was lighter on the pyrotechnics and electronic sounds, drawing a smaller but no less devoted crowd of fans to the Buttermilk venue than his noisier predecessors.

After closing with an extended singalong “Mine,” Bazzi returned for an encore. He took fan requests for his farewell song, choosing the sultry “Focus.”

Taking the X Games music stage hours after news broke of Kobe Bryant’s death in a California helicopter crash, Bazzi — a Michigan native now based in Los Angeles — honored the NBA legend, calling him “one of my heroes growing up, one of the greatest basketball players and humans of all time.”

“I want you all to remember how lucky we all are to be at the X Games in Aspen right now alive and healthy,” he told the Buttermilk Ski Area crowd, drawing a roar of applause and a “Kobe” chant.

atravers@aspentime.com swagner@aspentimes.com

Aspen’s Ferreira repeats as X Games ski pipe champion in showdown with Blunck

Aspen’s love for Alex Ferreira doesn’t go unnoticed by the 25-year-old halfpipe skier. After all, he grew up in Aspen and never hesitates to talk about how much he loves his hometown.

And that is a big reason why he was so nervous to try to defend his X Games Aspen gold medal Sunday in the men’s ski superpipe final at Buttermilk.

“He was totally more nervous because he had to defend his title and he really wanted to be there for his fans and for Aspen. He wanted to be there for Aspen,” Ferreira’s mother, Colleen Delia, said after the competition. “This town is so good to me and to all of us. I’m just so blessed to live here. It’s the most amazing town and we do have a lot of family support. It’s wonderful.”

Ferreira achieved a lifelong dream last winter when he won his first X Games Aspen gold medal in front of his friends and family, beating two-time Olympic gold medalist David Wise in the process. Sunday’s final was a duel between Ferreira and Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck, and it came down to the final run of the 30-minute jam session.

The last to drop in and trailing Blunck, Ferreira could feel the weight on his shoulders.

“I was thinking, ‘This is a pretty big moment and there is a lot of pressure and a lot of stress. I got to compartmentalize that and do my best.’ And that’s what happened,” Ferreira said. “Absolutely a dream come true. Couldn’t have dreamt it better. I’m just so grateful and thankful everyone came down and we had such an awesome event.”

When the final standings were announced — there are no actual scores in the overall impression scoring system implemented at X Games this year — it was Ferreira back on top where he started, followed by Blunck and bronze medalist Brendan MacKay, an X Games rookie from Canada.

Blunck, 23, had only one previous X Games medal, a gold he won in 2017. He did enter as the two-time reigning world champion.

“He skied really well tonight and it was a good battle. I was just happy to have the opportunity to compete here at X Games,” Blunck said of Ferreira. “It feels amazing. I’m so stoked. Everyone out here killed it tonight and this new format, it’s so fun. It gives us an opportunity to be diverse, change things up and just go out and have some fun and just ski.”

MacKay, 22, was a surprise on the podium. Of the two Canadians in the eight-man final, X Games veteran Noah Bowman would have been the one most would expect to come away with a medal. After all, Bowman has twice been on the X Games podium, winning silver in 2012 and bronze in 2017. He was eighth Sunday.

Even MacKay had a hard time believing he was bringing an X Games bronze home with him.

“It’s kind of the dream. No other way to put it,” MacKay said. “I knew they were better than me. So I had my work cut out for me to keep up with them because they are so crazy good at skiing. Stoked I was able to land my runs.”

The athletes each got four runs in the jam session, and it was Ferreira leading most of the way. That is, until Blunck delivered on his final run, highlighted by a right side double-cork 1440 that jumped him ahead of Ferreira in the standings.

As the defending champion, Ferreira had the honors of being the last contestant to drop in. He had done little wrong over his previous three runs, but still trailed Blunck and needed one more good trip through the superpipe.

“He was solid all week. He worked out. He steamed. He ate super healthy and he meditated. He was just really chill,” Delia said. “I don’t know, he just got in the zone and did it. I was so proud. I knew he was going to do it. I just knew. But you always have that fear. I’ve been scared all week.”

Ferreira’s final run was nearly flawless and different from last year’s winning run, which included a pair of 1260s. Needing to keep up with Blunck, Ferreira pulled out his own version of the double-cork 1440, a trick he said he only recently learned. He paired that with a switch double-cork 1080 for his final two hits and apparently that’s exactly what he needed for gold.

“It hasn’t really been done that much and to be able to do it on the fourth and final run is a big deal,” said Ferreira, who also gushed about the fan support at the bottom of the superpipe. “It’s indescribable, because everybody wants me to win and wants me to do well and I can feel the energy, I can feel the aura and I can feel my mom and my friends and they just want me to do well and it rubs off, it really does. I’m just so grateful they came out.”

New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, last year’s bronze medalist as well as the reigning Olympic bronze medalist, was fourth Sunday. Winter Park’s Birk Irving, who edged out Blunck to win Friday’s elimination, was fifth, while Boulder’s Lyman Currier, a 2014 Olympian, was sixth. Wise, a four-time X Games Aspen gold medalist, was seventh, followed by Bowman.

Ferreira said the X Games repeat gold gives him fuel for the rest of the season. He hadn’t competed much this winter before Sunday, taking seventh at the Copper Grand Prix on Dec. 13 — won by Blunck — and 12th in a World Cup in China a week later, won by Bowman.

With the Mammoth Grand Prix scheduled for this week and Dew Tour, which is at Copper Mountain Resort this year, scheduled for early February, Ferreira has a renewed desire to compete.

“I gave it my whole heart and soul and I’m just grateful,” Ferreira said. “I didn’t do well in the first two events and quite frankly I didn’t really want to be at the last two events. It wasn’t that much fun. And this one I want to be at. And I’ve known from the past when I want to be at an event and I actually care about it, I typically tend to do pretty well.”

acolbert@aspentimes.com

Sildaru earns X Games slopestyle gold, holds most by any athlete 17 and younger

Kelly Sildaru should just change her last name to Slopestyle.

The 17-year-old out of Estonia has won every X Games women’s ski slopestyle competition since 2016, except for 2018, when she didn’t attend the games. Her dominance in the discipline rooted deeper into the hillside at Buttermilk as she won her fourth gold in the event Sunday afternoon and second of the weekend.

Commentators claim Sildaru’s rail work was the difference, but even the skier said she isn’t sure what makes her so successful in slopestyle.

“I don’t know. I haven’t figured it out yet,” Sildaru said. “I’m just trying to enjoy it and have fun skiing.”

On Friday, Sildaru took gold in the superpipe. With the wins, she now has nine X Games medals, tying Shaun White for most earned by a teenage athlete. With five golds, she is the sole holder of the most gold medals by any athlete 17 or younger.

She’s also just the third athlete this weekend to walk away with a pair of gold medals, alongside unified snowboarder and snow biker Mike Schulz and skier Colby Stevenson who won both the ski knuckle huck and slopestyle competitions.

Her second run was her strongest as she pulled out a rightside 900 with a mute grab, followed by a leftside 900 with a tail grab. She ended the run with a rightside 720 off the fin, the most rotation any skier got off the feature at the time.

Swiss skier Sarah Hoefflin and Sildaru exchanged spots in the leader’s seat until after the third trip down the course, when Sildaru took over for good.

Hoefflin sat in second place and tried to put down her best stuff for her last run, but couldn’t stick the landing on her second jump. Her less-than-perfect run kept her in second.

With just the defending champion left to drop in, Sildaru’s final run was more of a victory lap. She didn’t play it safe though, sticking a switch 1260 on the last jump.

“I just tried to enjoy the course and make the most of it,” she said.

Hoefflin’s silver brings her 2020 medal count to three, the most by any athlete as of Sunday afternoon. She earned bronze in unified skiing as well as ski big air.

The battle for third in slopestyle was dramatic, as Montana native Maggie Voisin and Isabel Atkin out of Park City went back and forth in the standings after each run. Sitting in a podium spot with one run remaining, Voisin “upped her rail game” with a 450 switch in her last pass through the course.

“Today was just the perfect day,” the 21-year-old said. “For me, it’s realizing sometimes in practice I’m not going to put it all together, taking a deep breath and knowing that when the pressure is on, I have it.”

Street star Jesse Paul holds off Sharpe, Thorgren to win snowboard rail jam

Normally, the street specialists would have the advantage over the true slopestyle riders in a rail jam. However, the inaugural snowboard rail jam at X Games Aspen on Sunday wasn’t your typical rail jam, as it sent riders down the upper part of the actual slopestyle course at Buttermilk Ski Area.

“These rails are intimidating,” said X Games host and former competitor Jack Mitrani during Sunday’s telecast. “I used to come here and compete in pipe, and this was back in the day when slopestyle wasn’t as high a level as it’s at right now, but I’d come over here and I’d have some fun on these rails. But they were so intimidating. They are humungous.”

So, considering this, it may be surprising that Jesse Paul, a 27-year-old urban rider from Minnesota, took down X Games stars Darcy Sharpe and Sven Thorgren to win Sunday’s rail jam. Paul won bronze in the all-street video competition Real Snow put on by X Games in 2017.

“This is a dream come true,” Paul said after receiving his gold medal.

Sharpe won slopestyle gold only the night before, while Thorgren is now a six-time X Games medalist, including slopestyle gold in 2017. But Paul, despite his relative inexperience on the larger slopestyle rails at Buttermilk, took down the traditional stars Sunday.

The 20-minute jam session, which like most contests this weekend was using an overall impression scoring format as opposed to the tradition best run scoring system, was highlighted by the appearance of Craig McMorris, a pro snowboarder and X Games TV personality who is the brother of slopestyle and big air star Mark McMorris.

Craig McMorris was one of the eight competitors in the rail jam, finishing seventh. His antics and in-contest interviews gave the event some personality.

On his first run, he opened by hopping out of a parked Jeep and hit a large rainbow rail with only one foot strapped onto his snowboard. He hit it flawlessly, but stopped before the next set of rails, unstrapped and just slid down the rest of the course.

“It’s just pure improvisation at this point,” McMorris said. “I’m having fun. Everybody is having fun. I though I’d do something different. I’m not going to hang with these slopestyle guys on the 270s, so you got to find your own way.”

Other competitors included fourth-place finisher Rene Rinnekangas, a rising slopestyle star from Finland, street stars in Brandon Davis and Frank Bourgeois, and Japan’s Ryo Aizawa, who finished seventh in Saturday’s big air contest but made some noise with the quad-cork 1800 he landed in qualifying.

acolbert@aspentimes.com

X Games Aspen athletes, Bazzi pay tribute to late basketball star Kobe Bryant

After the news of Kobe Bryant’s death spread across the sports world, some of those connected to X Games Aspen paid their respects to the Los Angeles Lakers star who died Sunday in a helicopter crash.

Before his first run, Australian snowbike racer Jackson Strong stood up over his bike. He pulled at the gold-and-purple Bryant jersey he was wearing for the finals. The crowd gave a loud cheer.

Strong, 28, won bronze Sunday night and afterward said he latched onto the Lakers and Bryant through X Games competitions at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

“If I put on an American accent ever at home I’d say ‘Kobe Bryant from the Lakers.’ That’s as American as I can get,” Strong said. “It’s very unfortunate, very sad. When something like this happens in the athletic world, it’s good to have everyone stick together. It’s important.”

ESPN moved its X Games programming through the day. The announcement came while there was four-hour break in the competition schedule and just before the final concert of the X Games Aspen weekend.

Los Angeles-based singer Bazzi paid tribute to Bryant early in his Sunday afternoon set on the X Games music stage. He said the NBA legend was a hero to him growing up.

“I want you all to remember how lucky we all are to be at the X Games in Aspen right now alive and healthy,” he told the crowd at the Buttermilk venue. “Let’s make some noise for Kobe Bryant.”

ESPN’s X Games announcers posted on social media and came on to pay their respects to the Bryant family and added, “We’re going to continue our competition in honor of his spirit and his love of sports.”

Young Zeb Powell blows X Games Aspen minds with crazy knuckle huck win

What a moment Sunday night’s knuckle huck competition was for Zeb Powell and the sport — the passion — of snowboarding.

Debuting at X Games Aspen last year, the knuckle huck is a competition that allows for, encourages and celebrates the flair, the style and the fun at the heart of snowboarding as riders huck themselves off the “knuckle,” or rollover, of the big air landing before landing in the formal landing area. Last year, though, the contest was contained to riders who are competitors on the slopestyle and big air circuit.

After the knuckle huck’s success in 2019, the X Games brought in the kind of atypical non-contest riders the snowboard community knows via Instagram videos and film parts. They brought in a street video legend like 29-year-old Halldor Helgason of Iceland. And they brought in the 20-year-old North Carolina native Powell who regarded Helgason as “a favorite forever” as he honed his distinctive style on the hills of Vermont.

Along with six other riders — including the stylish Norwegian rider who inspired the creation of the event, Marcus Kleveland — Powell and Helgason stole the show Sunday night at Buttermilk Ski Area. In the end, Powell won the contest on the strength of a trick he tried first. It’s dubbed the “coffin slide,” a wild backflip-type move that features a slide on his back on the knuckle before fully tweaking out a method grab inverted.

The trick, however, almost came to be by accident. Powell said two years ago he was lapping the Carinthia Park at Mount Snow, riding the chairlift with his friend L.J. Twombly, when the idea struck him.

“And I looked over to the knuckle of the big jump,” Powell said, “and I saw someone go up, and I don’t think he really knew what he was doing. But he just kind of slid out to his butt. And immediately, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. I want to do that.’ Cause me and my friend L.J. were messing around on the slope, we like to go really fast and go on our butts or our back like that. So I guess I saw that and I saw the guy flip out and I connected it to that.”

The execution of the idea took Powell from 36,000-follower snowboard community Instagram fame to, maybe just maybe, ESPN Sportscenter Top 10-like fame.

Powell continued to land mind-blowing tricks off the knuckle Sunday night for the rest of the competition, holding off the best tricks from riders like Kleveland, Helgason and Silverthorne 16-year-old and friend Jake Canter. Some of the other mind-blowing tricks on the night included fifth-place finisher Rene Rinnekangas’ head-drag, where he inverted and skimmed the crown of his helmet off the knuckle. In the spirit of the event, Rinnekangas on his last run had Japanese 20-year-old Ryo Aizawa ride down to the knuckle before him, rotate to his back and raise the base of his board as a ramp, which Rinnekangas then launched off.

After Powell was crowned champion, ahead of Kleveland in second, Fridtjof Tischendorf in third and Helgason in fourth, he kept wearing the cheap, rose-colored, heart-shaped glasses he picked up randomly in the snow earlier in the day and wore through the contest. Moments later, he said the contest lets boarders like him, and his hero Helgason, speak from the heart.

“Man, he’s such a king,” Helgason said of Powell, who he met just days prior. “I really appreciate hearing I had inspiration to him. That’s insane to me.”

X Games athletes differ on the new jam session style judging at Buttermilk

In sports, it’s not often there is a competition without a transparent scoring or timing system. This week at X Games Aspen has been a case study in how competitions can go for athletes and audience alike when there is no explicit scoring for the competitors and fans to reference during and after contests.

For this year’s event, X Games Aspen opted for a “jam” competition format. That meant all athletes in skiing and snowboarding competitions ran through the big air, slopestyle or superpipe courses one after the other for a set amount of time. Once the clock expired, any athletes who had not had their chance in that round of runs got a final opportunity to have the same amount of attempts as the other competitors.

As the jam clock counted down, and after each athlete finished a run during the overall timed round, the X Games broadcast updated an unofficial ranking of the active athletes. The scoreboard only presented the order of the athletes, sans score. The athletes were ranked based on what the X Games officials described as “overall impression.”

“Overall, we are happy with how the competitions flowed.  We were able to deliver a lot more action to our fans and highlight the remarkable skills and talents of the best action sports athletes in the world,” X Games vice president Tim Reed said in a statement sent Sunday night. “We’ll take a look at all of the shows and as we do with all aspects of our business we’ll look to continue to evolve in the future and make the necessary tweaks.”

In the past, X Games has used a jam format for some competitions, such as big air. But in those years past, athletes and fans saw scores for each jump flash up on the screen next to the athletes’ rank. This year, the jam format was new for slopestyle and superpipe, which traditionally has been operated in the Olympic style, where athletes have a set number of attempts, typically two or three, to have runs count toward their score, typically one or two. After each attempt, they see their score.

The change in this year’s scoring and competition format had mixed reviews from the athletes.

Snowboard slopestyle gold medalist Darcy Sharpe said he thought the change allowed for more creativity and opportunity for athletes to mess up somewhere on the course and not worry about it instantly tanking their chances.

“I have stayed true to this from the start,” the Canadian star said. “I absolutely love the format. … When I was a kid I would get post-X Games depression. Straight up, I’d be like so sad. There’d be two runs done, and I’d be like, ‘No. It’s over already.’ Now, you get to watch riding the whole contest. If somebody falls, they can still do tricks. … You’re not just doing one line practicing the same thing over and over again like a little robot.”

Sharpe’s result in the new format may have been the most interesting and surprising of the entire X Games. After three runs, Sharpe was in last entering his final run. He put down a great run, he soared into first. And the unofficial scoreboard flashed the change seconds after the guy who was in first, Red Gerard of Summit County, dropped in for his run, seemingly unaware of the score change.

Afterward, Gerard said he wasn’t giving the score or format too much thought. His bigger focus was staying in the moment, not worrying about the score, and riding as well as he could. He ended up with a bronze medal.

Sharpe’s older sister Cassie, who won bronze in ski superpipe, echoed a sentiment of many athletes this week, including Canadian star Mark McMorris, who took silver in big air Saturday night, and Summit County snowboarder Chris Corning. Without explicit scores, Cassie Sharpe said, it’s hard to know what exactly you need to do or what else you should have done.

“You get variation, you get all these things that are amazing with it,” she said, “but they don’t have a solid way of saying you need to do this to win. It’s kind of like you’re blind.”

After Corning missed the cut for the snowboard big air final, he put it in context, saying he and his U.S. Snowboard Team coaches Mike Ramirez and Dave Reynolds didn’t know what the judges wanted.

“It’s really hard, because you don’t know where you’re sitting,” Corning said. “You know you’re under them, but you don’t know how far you are under them.”

American Maggie Voisin, who won bronze in ski slopestyle Sunday, said she felt the traditional format forces progression more because she thinks focusing on one run pushes athletes further. American halfpipe freeski star Aaron Blunck of Crested Butte, on the other hand, thinks the new format makes athletes have to be more versatile.

“We get so caught up with that one-run format,” Blunck said, “so everyone works for that one run. It’s really cool to be able to go into it all and do everything and change who you are as a skier.”

Aspen Times Sports Editor Austin Colbert and Steamboat Pilot & Today Sports Editor Shelby Reardon contributed to this report.